My Hustler: Abuse of Weakness

08/13/2014 4:00 AM |

Abuse of Weakness
Directed by Catherine Breillat

Whatever its ultimate worth, Catherine Breillat’s Abuse of Weakness is notable for devoting the most screen time to check-writing since the opening of Tout Va Bien. And just as Godard and Gorin depict movie financing as a Faustian bloodletting, so does Breillat compare the monetary transactions necessary for the production of art to an excruciating physical depletion. Debilitated by a stroke, filmmaker Maud (Isabelle Huppert) becomes infatuated with arrogant hustler Vilko (Kool Shen), impulsively cast as the lead in her next movie and gradually made recipient of her bank account—so he can subsidize shady business deals and so she can keep him on board. As Maud’s health deteriorates the psychological manipulation increases: rich, insulated Maud uses the uncouth ex-con to condescendingly experience how the other half lives; Vilko, meanwhile, employs guilt to not only bully Maud out of her cash but also to win her undivided attention—a born actor (and author of a myth-inflating memoir), his deceptions demand an audience or else might as well cease to exist.

In the past Breillat has largely specialized in warmed-over art house shock about perverse sexuality. Instead of transgression, Abuse traffics in autobiography, but Breillat remains too insignificant and too rudimentary a filmmaker to create compelling meta-commentary—the parallels between Maud’s planned film, about the violent relationship between a movie star and a secret lover, and her real life (and Breillat’s real real life) go largely unexplored. If taken as a straightforward portrait of soul-sucking codependence, however, Abuse proves disturbing in its moral inscrutability. Huppert is brilliant as usual, moving beyond rote awards-craving imitations of physical distress in order to render Maud a victim deserving of both scorn and sympathy. When at the film’s end she claims it was both herself and not herself who made so many naïve, self-destructive decisions, we know exactly what she means.

Opens August 15 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center